Earth Hour

Earth Hour is a great idea. It uses a simple action – turning off the lights – to bring attention to climate change and global warming. But there is one glaring flaw in targeting lights and electricity as the symbol of climate change. Not everyone’s electricity comes from a carbon emitting source. For millions of people in the countries and cities targeted by the Earth Hour campaign electricity comes from hydroelectric or nuclear power not coal burning plants.
I write this from the Vancouver with the knowledge that much of BC’s lower mainland and northwestern Washington State is powered by hydroelectric. I took a bus and the skytrain to get to the airport where I am about to get on an airplane to take me back to Edmonton. Once in Edmonton I’ll have to catch a shuttle to get into the city from the airport. All of these things will emit more carbon than it took to charge my laptop battery off the Vancouver grid last night. When I turn off the lights at 8:30 for Earth Hour the space I’m in will be heated by natural gas. Despite all the carbon my activities today spew into the atmosphere, I would be able to play the environmentally conscious thus morally superior card – if I were so inclined – because for one hour I went without electricity.
There is no doubt Earth Hour is great publicity for conserving electricity but I’m not convinced it is the best option for global warming and climate change. It targets the symptoms of a larger problem, society’s reliance on fossil fuels to power our lives, instead of the problem itself. It lets the environmentally conscious prove their activism for 1 of the 8760 hours in a year and while not asking them to curb their consumerism or let go of their automotive crutch.
It is the problem of environmentalism that I continually come across in my research, small actions that are presented as solving great problems of society while looking at the symptom rather than the root of the problem. It is like cutting off your finger when you get a paper cut. Maybe that is why environmentalism is, to date, the only failed social movement to come from the 1960s.
I still encourage people to participate in Earth Hour because it is good publicity for living in a more environmental conscious way. But despite the World Wildlife Fund propaganda turning off your lights for one hour is not going to make an impact. Cities stopping all non-essential use of motor vehicles for a month on the other hand would make an impact.

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About Lauren Wheeler

A reformed history phd student working as a public historian and looking for connections between museums and environmental history from the often freezing reaches of Canada (aka Edmonton).
This entry was posted in Environment, Environmentalism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Earth Hour

  1. Pete says:

    “It lets the environmentally conscious prove their activism for 1 of the 8760 hours in a year and while not asking them to curb their consumerism or let go of their automotive crutch.”

    That is exactly why I don’t like Earth Hour and generally don’t go out of my way to do anything. It is more important to make small changes all the time so that they become habit than to turn off all your lights once a year.

    • First. Let me revise that statement. “It lets those who desire to be seen as environmentally conscious a moment in which to perform their activism without the challenge of changing their lifestyle permanently.”

      Second. Pete, I agree completely and can say this year my participation was purely for research purposes. That said, last year I fell asleep reading and missed earth hour completely. That might make me a bad environmentalist – which is fine by me since it is a label I don’t like.

  2. Pete says:

    Nah–it makes you a bad “in your face once in a while environmentalist.”

    I think last year I was running around in a park (and would have been Earth Hour or not!)

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